October 29, 2003

OF COURSE, KIM DU TOIT WOULD JUST MAKE A RUG: David Baron, with whom I used to do a radio show at Yale, now has a book out entitled The Beast in the Garden: A Modern Parable of Man and Nature. It’s about the way in which low-density residential patterns and animal-protection laws are bringing people into close proximity with dangerous animals.

I’m glad that animals like cougars are making a comeback (here’s an interesting article on reports, possibly true, that they’re back in the Smokies), but I don’t want them around my house. And if they were, I’d be inclined to make a rug, too.

UPDATE: Reader Jayson K. emails:

I can back up reports of cougars in Tennessee. A friend of mine who built the house I live in now bought some land near Gatlinburg. On day while walking his land, he saw a cougar. He was really startled and a little in awe, while he half-expected to run into a bear, he never thought he’d run across a cougar. So be ton he lookout when you go walking into the woods deep in TN.

Once, quite a few years ago, I saw what looked like cougar tracks not too far from Happy Valley. But I’m no expert tracker — though if they were bobcat tracks, it was one damn big bobcat. . . .

ANOTHER UPDATE: Jay Manifold emails:

Glenn – You’ll probably get tons of e-mails like these. There have been multiple reports within the past year of cougars appearing (for the first time in over a century) in or near the KC metro area, population 1.8 million; see, for example, Link.

I’d say that David Baron’s book is quite timely!

Yes. It’s very well written, too. Here’s a bit from the introduction:

This book tells the story of a death that was not supposed to happen and the forces that made it inevitable. It is a tale of politics and history, and ecology gone awry, all come to life in feline form. It is the chronicle of a town that loved its own version of nature with such passion that its embrace ultimately altered the natural world. The comparison may seem far-fetched, but much as the Aztecs hauled prisoners up high pyramids and cut out their beating hearts as an offering to the sun, the human mauled five centuries later on a frozen hill in 1991 was, in effect a sacrifice, killed by a community embracing a myth: the idea that wilderness, true wilderness, could exist in modern America.

I’ve just glanced through it so far, but it looks quite good.

MORE: Reader Herbert Jacobi emails:

Re The Beast in The Garden. I have hunted Cougar, both in Utah unsuccessful) and Arizona (successful). They are amazing. If you don’t hunt them with dogs your chances of getting one are close to nil. Even with dogs it’s a challenge. They blend in with their background perfectly. You could walk buy one five feet away and not notice. People tend not to believe that but it’s true. I think it is a mistake not to hunt them at all. They gradually lose their fear of people and follow the deer and other edibles into back yards.

Yes, it seems rather obvious to me that “fear of humans” is usually acquired, not inbred. Predators fear humans because humans are dangerous. If people stop acting dangerous, predators stop fearing humans. Then the predators become dangerous.